WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- The New Zealand government said Wednesday it launched the process for onshore and offshore oil and natural gas exploration permits for 2014.
The government awarded 10 exploration permits for oil and natural gas during its first auction in December. Permits for 2013 will be awarded under new laws that consider health, safety and environmental factors for explorers.
Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges announced Wednesday the government was looking ahead to the 2014 permit season.
Bridges said the government would put five offshore areas and three onshore areas, covering a combined 167,500 square miles, on the auction block next year.
The minister said the government was seeking input from local and aboriginal communities.
"This is not about development at any cost," he said in a statement. "The government is committed to promoting and managing exploration interest in a safe and responsible way."
Bridges told members of the Parliament the energy sector plays a "significant" role in economic development.
Crude oil is New Zealand's fourth-largest export, contributing more than $2 billion to gross national product each year.